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Seriously injured student's wish comes true

On April 19, Leah Van Valkenburg's life changed in a blink.

On that spring morning, Leah was involved in a car accident as she drove away from the Hess gasoline station on Jefferson Road near the RIT campus. The fourth-year sports nutrition management major spent the next three weeks in a coma at Strong Memorial Hospital. The 21-year-old honors student from Frankfort, N.Y., was placed on a respirator and listed in "critical" condition.

But signs of hope came after Leah was transferred to the brain injury rehabilitation unit at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester. Three weeks after the accident, Leah spoke for the first time, and in a few more days she was walking with assistance. Among Leah's first words was a wish to attend commencement ceremonies and receive her diploma with her classmates.

She got her wish. On May 25, Leah walked across the stage with family and friends there to cheer her on and shed a few tears of joy. Leah's classmates in the hospitality and service management department raised $1,200 for Leah's family to help defray medical costs. Support also came from Margaret's House, RIT's on-campus child daycare center, where Leah was a volunteer.

"It's clearly a miracle," says Barbra Cerio-Iocco, one of Leah's professors.